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Test the Waters

(April/May 2019) posted on Thu May 09, 2019

There’s never been a better time to hop aboard the water-based inks train.

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By Lon Winters

Curing and Drying
If your inks are wet and printing correctly, the next issue is curing. It’s not a requirement, but having a forced-air gas dryer with enough belt to accommodate a chamber time of two to three minutes is best. Without that time in the dryer, you run the risk of undercuring and adhesion issues, as well as washfastness problems. Water-based inks don’t cure until all of the water has evaporated, leaving the binder and pigment on the shirt. The right temperature setting and belt speed will depend on the length of your drying tunnel, so use a digital thermometer to establish the temperature and chamber time you need.

When a job on press is completed, process the screens immediately. You will likely cause stains on the screen mesh if ink is left in the print area. Wiping the print areas with a wet rag helps minimize this, so keep buckets around the press with water and rags for cleanup. And don’t assume water-based ink alleviates any disposal concerns. It contains dyes/pigments, binders, resins, and the like. Just because it has water in the name doesn’t mean it’s drain safe.

Diving In
My best advice for those unfamiliar with these inks is to walk before you run and crawl before you walk. Start by printing single or multicolor designs on light garments using only dark water-based inks. Next, get a bright white print on dark fabric. Try printing vector art with bold block colors, a more complex use of water-based inks. Then take another big step and experiment with water-based simulated process color on dark garments.

Most importantly, don’t wait. Water-based printing opens up new opportunities that help to differentiate your product in the market. They deliver an arguably better finish and offer more variety in special effects. There is little that cannot be achieved using water-based inks. Regardless of regulations, performance and responsibility can go hand in hand. Water-based inks today have advanced properties that enable them to be used for just about any application. 

“The world changes, with or without our blessing,” Quaglia observes. “It is a fact and is vital to thinking about how we can adjust our approach. The increasing chemical substance limitations, the growing concepts of sustainability, personal awareness about ecology, and generation renewal could be properly sustained just by lifting the bar of our skills and knowledge through a different mental approach. The past is a wonderful place where we built ourselves, our profession, our dreams, and we never have to forget about that, but now our vision must be projected to the future, because it is exactly where we are going to spend the rest of our lives.”

Adds Michelle Moxley, M&R’s innovation director, “Always be willing to try anything new, and always be willing to stop trying and move on. As they say, timing is everything, and if struggles outweigh gains, plan to revisit tests in the future. Use a structured plan to integrate anything new into your shop; a step-by-step approach is key. Even if your most trusted partner tells you what the correct step is, still prove it and do it yourself. This is where true knowledge and innovation live. If failure presents itself, be open to the possibility that more change is needed, either with mindset, gaining knowledge, or the technology you’ve tested. Also keep in mind, failure can ultimately be success; it’s all about perspective.” 

Right on! 

Lon Winters is the president and founder of Graphic Elephants and Print This, Inc. His nearly 30-year career in garment printing includes being named as director of production for Ocean Pacific at the age of 21. He is a frequent speaker and author, and his companies have won over 50 awards in international printing competitions. He was inducted into the Academy of Screen and Digital Printing Technologies (ASDPT) in 2013.

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